This card is a reflection on the state of the women’s bantamweight division. It could be argued the two most important contests of the year for the division are taking place on this card. Should Irene Aldana beat Holly Holm, she could earn herself a title shot. Should Juliana Pena beat Germaine de Randamie, she could earn herself a title shot. Regardless, this card isn’t getting a lot of attention, even for a televised card. In other words, women’s bantamweight is a disaster area. No doubt the UFC is hoping at least one of the younger competitors emerges victorious as they’re running short on contenders to throw at Amanda Nunes. To give a not so subtle hint of my thoughts, it’s been proven time and again that we can’t have nice things in MMA….
The main card is on ESPN and ESPN+ at 10:30 PM ET/7:30 PM PT.
Holly Holm vs. Irene Aldana, Women’s Bantamweight
For all the crap talked about Holm, you’d think she’s a terrible fighter. That isn’t to say she isn’t still living off some of the currency from her win over Ronda Rousey five years ago, but I can’t help but wonder if Holm’s harshest critics have bothered to take a look at who she has lost to. Every single one of her losses have come to someone who has held a UFC title at some point in time. It isn’t like she’s getting blown out in all of these losses either. As Holm proved in her decisive win over Raquel Pennington, at the very least, she’s a top-notch gatekeeper.
The criticisms of Holm largely focus on how she doesn’t dominate opponents on the feet despite her championship boxing accolades. Part of that is due to opponents having an understanding on how to strategize against her. Holm is most comfortable as a counter puncher, as everyone figured out when Rousey continually rammed her face against Holm’s fists. However, Holm also struggles to remain patient. So, she’s willing to go on the attack, but also has a tendency to come up short on a large amount of her punches. Even when she lands, she hasn’t been able to finish off an opponent with her fists.
Fortunately for Holm, kicking is allowed in MMA and she’s been much more effective with her kicking than she has with her boxing. All the talk is centered in on her head kicks – she finished off Rousey and Bethe Correia that way – but she is actually effectively works them to all levels. That’s the biggest difference between Holm’s standup and Aldana’s. Not that Aldana doesn’t throw kicks – she chewed up the leg of Lucie Pudilova – but she doesn’t mix them as well, nor does she have the arsenal of Holm. That doesn’t mean Aldana is going to avoid striking with Holm. Aldana brilliantly allowed Ketlen Vieira to be the aggressor, allowing her to put Vieira away with a leaping hook as the Brazilian moved forward. In other words, it proved she has one-punch KO power, a rarity in women’s MMA.
Another reason Aldana will assuredly look to stand and trade with Holm: the former champion is one of the strongest women in the sport. Holm had some success in the clinch against de Randamie and Cyborg Justino, two of the most physically imposing combatants in the women’s division. Holm has closed the distance when she is unsure if she is the better striker with space. Given Aldana appears to have the power advantage in her fists and is similarly athletic, expect this contest to slow down for significant stretches.
Though I’m not crazy about Holm’s striking selection, her experience and physical strength has me leaning towards her. She put together the most intelligent performance of her career in her last appearance against Raquel Pennington as well. Plus, Aldana has yet to prove she’s on the level of those who have defeated Holm. She’s shown enough that I won’t be surprised if she can beat Holm, but Holm hasn’t shown any decline. Thus, I’m picking Holm to maintain her position as a top notch gatekeeper. Holm via decision
Germaine de Randamie vs. Juliana Pena, Women’s Bantamweight
De Randamie might be the most underappreciated former champion in UFC history. I’m not saying I don’t understand why. After winning the inaugural women’s featherweight championship, she refused to defend the belt against Cyborg, citing a refusal to fight a reputed drug user. Regardless of the veracity of her claims, it forever tarnished her reputation. If one were to look past her willingness to give up the belt, she has a far more impressive record than most will give her credit for, her only UFC losses coming to Amanda Nunes.
Many would say de Randamie has been fortunate in her opponents thus far, Nunes being the only threat to take her to the mat that lasted beyond 16 seconds. A former kickboxer and Muay Thai practitioner, de Randamie is one of the few legit KO threats in the division with her combination of power and technique. While she isn’t a top-flight athlete, she does have a long frame and knows damn well how to use it to keep the opposition from closing the distance without receiving some form of punishment. However, where people say she has been fortunate in her opposition has been the lack of opponents who pose major takedown threats. Of her victories, only Aspen Ladd had a notable wrestling background.
Enter Pena. One of the more gifted athletes in women’s MMA, Pena has fought just once since losing to Valentina Shevchenko in early 2017, largely due to her having a child. The high level of inactivity has led many forget about the former TUF winner. Highly aggressive in her pursuit of takedowns – often to the point where reckless would be a better descriptor – Pena holds nothing back. It isn’t always technical, but her burst and refusal to give up often make up for that. As I said though, her aggression has cost her several times before, often resulting in her losing a beneficial position. Pena does have a dangerous guard, perhaps why she’s willing to be as aggressive as she is on the mat.
While Pena does have some power in her fists, she doesn’t have the patience and/or technique on the feet to make proper use of it. In fact, it’s hard to see her not eating some heavy artillery from de Randamie. All the Dutch representative has to do is be patient and she’s sure to catch Pena with something hard. It’s doubtful it will be a single shot as Pena is double tough – it may even go the distance – but de Randamie is difficult to take down and has improved her ground game to the point that it’s difficult to break her defense on the mat. She’s likely to make Pena pay a heavy price. De Randamie via TKO of RD2
- The best way to describe Yorgan De Castro is as a sniper. He doesn’t throw a lot of volume, but when he gets a clear shot, it’s lights out more often than not. Unfortunately for De Castro, the higher he climbs on the UFC ladder, the more difficult it’s going to be for him to find those clear shots. Undersized at heavyweight, his lack of athleticism makes it difficult for him to make up the necessary ground his small frame requires him to do. De Castro does have an excellent understanding of angles and timing and that has allowed him to find great success thus far in his career. But can he do so as his opponents tend to show greater athleticism? While he failed that test against Greg Hardy, Carlos Felipe is no Greg Hardy in terms of physical attributes. Then again, that doesn’t mean Felipe isn’t leaps ahead of De Castro in that department. The young Brazilian may be one of the best athletes in the division, possessing plenty of power in his own right. Unfortunately for Felipe, he’s also incredibly raw. His boxing appears to be his best weapon, mixing his strikes well to the body and head. That’s also where De Castro is at his best and Felipe may be the better athlete, he’s one of the few in the division that doesn’t have a definitive size advantage over De Castro. The sniper should find a clean shot to head to the showers early before Felipe can pick up steam. De Castro via KO of RD1
- While there was a lot to like about Dusko Todorovic’s performance on DWCS, it wasn’t the exhilarating performance that tends to get Uncle Dana to hand out a contract. There was a lot of clinch work and very few momentum swings. And yet, Todorovic received a contract anyway. One can’t help but believe Todorovic’s work prior to his appearance on the show played a part in him receiving that contract as the unbeaten youngster had never gone to decision previously. He’s got solid power and knows how to dictate the pace of a contest very well for someone so young. Dictating the pace of a contest is something Dequan Townsend has never figured how to do. A very experienced veteran, Townsend is a good athlete with a lot of finishes on his resume. On the regional scene, he’s been able to get away with that thanks to his physical gifts. Since coming to the UFC, his inability to avoid falling into his opponent’s fight has doomed his chances for success thus far. No one can doubt Townsend’s willingness to fight anyone, but he hasn’t provided anyone a reason to trust his fight IQ. Todorovic outmuscles Townsend over the course of the contest for a clear decision win. Todorovic via decision